One giant leap for Rockets

RAPID RIVER – It’s safe to say the switch to eight-man football has been a good move for Rapid River.

The Rockets made the jump three years ago and on Friday they will play in their second eight-man championship game, as they travel to downstate Greenville to face Peck.

Rapid River (12-0) crushed Kinde-North Huron 40-8 on Saturday and Peck beat Lawrence 73-34, setting up the championship match-up.

“It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work by the players and a lot of time put in by them in the offseason and I attribute it to their hard work,” said Rockets head coach Steve Ostrenga. “It’s one of those things that’s come together and we talked about being a football family several years ago and it’s been a nice thing that players a couple of years ago passed down.”

Rapid River seniors’ Jake Pearson and Hayden Hardwick were both starters on the 2011 team that finished as state runner-up and have been key players during a three year stretch in which the Rockets have compiled a 33-5 record.

Ostrenga noted that Pearson and Hardwick, both All U.P. selections, bring “valuable playoff experience” to the table, as well as the rest of the upperclassmen. The challenge for the Peck Pirates (12-0) will be slowing down Pearson, who has proved to be a threat on the ground and through the air all season.

“He’s definitely a threat running the ball,” said Peck head coach Rob McDaniel. “He’s big, he’s strong and for his size he’s quite shifty. We’re going to have our hands full trying to contain him. We’re not going to hold him to nothing. He’s going to get his yards, he’s going to get his scores, we’ve just got to try and limit him as much as possible.”

Pearson had a field day last week against Kinde-North Huron, rushing for 359 yards and three touchdowns, while throwing for two more.

Peck also had an offensive star of their own last week in Cody Abrego. The junior running back racked up 449 yards, and seven touchdowns, while shattering school records in both categories.

“They’re obviously 12-0 for a reason, they’re a really good football team,” Ostrenga said. “They’re big, probably as big as a team we have faced. They’re quite fast, they have several guys, you give them a seam and they’re going to be gone. Their tailback Cody Abrego, obviously he is the real deal.”

While Peck does throw the ball, their attack is primarily based on the ground, where they have had five players rush for over 100 yards on the season.

“They just present that challenge with all those different running backs and I think whoever’s got the hot hand,they’re going to ride,” Ostrenga said.

“We have to tackle, we have to play our best football, that’s what you’d hopefully expect in a championship game. We’re hoping to play our best football, and win or lose that’s all you can bring to the table.”

Peck is in its second season of eight-man football. It is the school’s best playoff run since the 1995 season, where they made it to the state semifinal game. The two teams have had one common opponent this season in Kinde-North Huron. Peck played Kinde in the second week of the season, edging the Warriors 24-12.

“It’s been a pretty fun year. We’ve got a great bunch of kids,” McDaniel said. “We’ve worked really hard to get where we’re at. I’ve got great leadership, a lot of good senior leadership with these kids. They stay very focused. We’re both 12-0, it couldn’t be a better scenario. I really don’t think either team, win or lose, is going to be a loser.”

Rapid River will square off with Peck on Friday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The neutral site in Greenville is about a seven hour drive for the Rockets and a four hour drive for Peck.

Ostrenga said his team is excited to play for another championship and gave recognition to the athletes, coaches and staff that has made it possible.

“We’re honored to be in it and we’ll give it our best. It’s wonderful to get the support. Big thanks to the coaching staff and our athletic director Rick Pepin. He does a lot of things behind the scenes and at the game for us.”